Using oral pathology to diagnose leukoplakia may be in your future if a bothersome white patch inside your mouth sends you to see an oral surgeon. Like many, it might be the first time you have heard that term. While the unknown can be scary, there is a lot you can learn about leukoplakia, including the process before, during, and after the diagnosis.
Before: Causes of Leukoplakia
Leukoplakia is the term used to diagnose certain white patches in the mouth. While not all white patches in the mouth are leukoplakias, those that are could potentially develop into oral cancer. Leukoplakia is most often diagnosed in older men, but women can be diagnosed as well. The condition is very uncommon in those under forty.
A direct cause has not been identified, but a large percentage of patients diagnosed with leukoplakia have used tobacco.
During: Diagnosis of Leukoplakia
When patients seek medical treatment for white patches in their mouth, a careful examination of the mouth lining is the first step toward a diagnosis. Careful documentation of the patient’s medical and social history is gathered and the oral surgeon excludes any other possible cause of the lesion by considering this data.
A biopsy of the lesion is often needed to make an accurate diagnosis. The biopsy sample is analyzed to determine how advanced the condition is. At this point, it can be determined what the precancerous potential of the tissue sample is. It is even possible that oral cancer can be diagnosed at this stage.
Depending on the degree of changes that have occurred in the mouth tissue, the oral surgeon will develop a plan for treatment. Typically a classification of mild, moderate, or severe epithelial dysplasia is made. This term relates to the degree of evidence that exists to show that the tissue of the mouth lining is changing in a negative way.
After: Treatment of Leukoplakia
The oral surgeon will use the information gathered from the oral pathology to develop a treatment plan. Considerations are made for the location of the lesion, the size of the legion, age and health status of the patient, and degree of severity ascertained by the biopsy.
In cases of mild leukoplakia in older men who smoke, doctors will strongly urge the patient to stop smoking and to re-evaluate the lesion periodically. In moderate or severe cases, oral surgeons will remove the patch. This process is a minor, outpatient procedure.
In most cases, once removed, leukoplakias are cured. Less often, leukoplakias will grow back. This is more likely to occur in patients who continue to smoke. It is necessary to continue to re-evaluate patients who have had leukoplakias over time.
If you are dealing with a bothersome white patch in your mouth, it is best to seek the experienced opinion of an oral surgeon. Contact the team at Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons of Utah and let us determine if it is necessary to use oral pathology to diagnose leukoplakia.